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David, part 9

The Ark of God Brought into the Holy City.

2 Samuel 6

the ark of God was the most sacred of all the sacred things of the Israelitish Church. It was the consecrated receptacle of the two tables of stone, on which the ten commandments were engraved by the finger of God. That law was called the law of the covenant, because the keeping of its precepts was the condition on which rested all the promises of God to His people. That condition still remains. "If you will enter into life keep the commandments." There is, however, one difference. We must keep them in the spirit as well as in the letter. But as the obligation is increased, so is the blessing of obedience enhanced. If we have a spiritual law, we have also as a reward a spiritual inheritance. As the law of God is to be engraved on our hearts, so is the kingdom of God to be within us. With the Christian "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." When this kingdom is set up in the heart, the Christian has his inheritance in himself; and it remains as a treasure in heaven that waxes not old. It remains sure amidst all outward changes.

This interest that we have in the law makes everything relating to it, or related of it, interesting to us. Those treasured histories of the Old Testament respecting the ark of God, how interesting do they become to us when we know that all the singular and often affecting circumstances related of it happened for examples, and are written for our admonition!

In the history of the journey through the wilderness we read of the law being delivered amidst the thunders of Sinai, and directions given for the construction of the ark, wherein the tables on which it was written were to be placed. The ark was to be of shittim wood, overlaid with pure gold within and without, to teach us that the laws of heaven have their immediate dwelling-place in the good of love, free from selfishness and self-righteousness, the heart inwardly acknowledging no merit but that of the Lord, from whom all righteousness conies. Over the ark was the mercy-seat, also of pure gold, and on the mercy-seat were the two cherubims, between which God was to meet and commune with Moses, and through him with the people. The ten commandments are a Divine summary of our duties to God and to our neighbour, and therefore contain the whole duty of man as a religious being. For this reason our Lord, while He enforced the keeping of the commandments as a condition of eternal life, raised them above the low standard of Jewish morality. He taught that the first of all the commandments is, You shall love the Lord your God above all things, and tint the second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself; and declared that upon these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Love to God and love to man, which all the commandments teach and on which they are all fulfilled, are the two cherubim that were over the mercy-seat that covered the ark containing the Divine law. The Lord meets with His people where love to God and love to man are united; and their union rests upon purity of heart and holiness of life, as the mercy-seat and the cherubim rested upon the ark of the testimony. The ark, thus containing the law and surmounted by the cherubim, was placed in the inmost of the tabernacle, to remind us that the Divine law is to be placed in the inmost of the heart and mind.

The ark henceforward became the centre round which the Levites congregated and the congregation encamped. It was carried before them in their journeyings, and returned with them into their rest. It divided the Jordan and overthrew the walls of Jericho. For when the Divine law is in the heart, it has power to remove all obstacles that self-love and love of the world offer to our progress in the spiritual life. But a time came when the children of Israel no longer possessed the ark as a means of protection and blessing. Under the priesthood of Eli there was war with the Philistines, and Israel was overcome. In their distress and perplexity the elders caused the ark to be brought into the camp, and Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again. But this was not the shout of holy trust and confidence in God. Their priestly leaders were shamelessly corrupt, and they themselves had apostatized to the worship of Ashtaroth, the queen of heaven, a name and title of the moon, as Baal was of the sun. There can be no real confidence in God when there is iniquity in the midst, such as was now the case with the children of Israel. In their next encounter with the Philistines, the Israelites were smitten, and the ark of God was taken. The ark was carried as a trophy into the country of the Philistines. But if the presence of evil in the good hinders the very ark of God from protecting or delivering them, what must its effect be upon the evil themselves? It is the means of their destruction. "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." And it may be said of the tables of the law, as it is said of the Lord Himself, who was that very law, "whoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder." The ark soon showed its power against its unbelieving possessors. Dagon fell down in pieces before it. The inhabitants of Ashdod were destroyed and smitten with disease. The diviners were called, and advised that the ark should be sent with an offering back into the land of Israel. Two milk cows were tied to a cart, on which the ark, and the coffer containing the golden mice and images of their emerods, were placed; and the cows took the straight way to Beth-shemesh, a city of Judah. This was no doubt done in accordance with the law of correspondence, the remains of which still continued among the Philistines. The ark was placed upon a new cart, because a new cart signifies doctrine undefiled by evil and falsity; the cart was drawn by milk cows on which no yoke had come, because they signified good natural affections which have not been brought under servitude to false persuasions. The cows spontaneously took the way to Beth-shemesh, to indicate that uncorrupted natural affection inclines to the truth which leads to spiritual goodness, or goodness having a spiritual origin. The men of Beth-shemesh clave the wood of the cart, and offered up the cows a burnt-offering to the Lord; for this act implied the dedication to the Lord of the true thoughts and good affections of the natural mind, by which they become spiritual and saving.

But the men of Beth-shemesh themselves brought evil upon many of the people: by an act of irreverence of which they were guilty. They looked into the ark, and the Lord smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men. Such an act seems in itself but a venial sin, and under a spiritual dispensation might not be regarded as a sin at all. But that to which the men of Beth-shemesh belonged was a representative Church, in which everything was typical. An act done from an idly curious or with a profane eye, an act which, with the deepest reverence, could be lawful for none but for the priest only, brought upon them a destruction which, like the act itself, was representative. To seek to penetrate into the inmost of the Holy Word, and see its hidden wisdom, with an understanding unsanctified by the Spirit of truth, and a heart uninfluenced by the love of good, is destructive of spiritual life.

Terrified by this destruction, the Beth-shemites sent to the men of Kirjath-jearim, who came and fetched the ark, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord. "And it came to pass, while the ark abode in Kirjath-jearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord." There the ark remained till the time of David. One of the first acts of his reign was to bring it up out of its obscure place in Gibeah, and set it in his place, in the midst of the tabernacle he had pitched for it in Jerusalem. The account of this translation of the ark is that which we are now to consider.

David, with thirty thousand of the chosen men of Israel, went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Abinadab. When they had placed it upon a new cart, they set out with it, accompanied by two sons of Abinadab, Uzzah and Ahio, playing upon all manner of instruments. When, however, they came to Nachon's threshing-floor, the oxen shook the ark, and Uzzah put forth his hand and took hold of it: and for this rash act, the Lord's anger was kindled against him, and He smote him there, that he died by the ark. David's fear for the Lord was so great, that instead of removing the ark to his own city, he carried it aside into the house of Obed-edom the Gittite, where it remained for three months. Hearing that the Lord had blessed the house of Obed-edom because of the ark, he brought it up with great sacrificings and rejoicings to the city of David.

This removal of the ark by successive stages, or from one place to another, is representative of the successive elevation of the Divine law of love and truth in the mind, which takes place during the progress of the regenerate life. Three places are mentioned in which the ark rested. The first two were its temporary abode, the last was its fixed and proper dwelling-place. These three places, and the resting of the ark in them, and its removal from one to the other, represented the three states through which the regenerate pass in their upward progress to the kingdom of heaven. For every one who is fully regenerated is first natural, afterwards spiritual, and lastly celestial. To express it more strictly, man is regenerated first as to the natural degree of his mind, then as to the spiritual, and finally as to the celestial. And these degrees of the mind are signified by the house of Abinadab, the house of Obed-edom, and the city of David. In this view of the subject the account of the removal of the ark to its final resting-place in Zion describes representatively the work of regeneration from its beginning to its end, in those who attain to the highest degree of religious perfection. It may seem therefore to have but little interest for any others than those who have reached this elevated state. There is, however, in every particular stage a resemblance of the whole. And in this way the relation may be applied by every one to his own state. The ark of God, as a symbol of the Divine law of love and charity, experiences a progressive elevation in every regenerate mind analogous to that which it has in those who reach the purest condition of celestial life. The Divine law, in every regenerate one, is successively raised out of the memory into the understanding, and out of the understanding into the will. The first two are but the temporary abode of the law, the will is its final and permanent dwelling-place. The imperfect-ness of the previous state is marked by the act of Uzzah. His putting forth his hand to prevent the ark from falling to the ground, points to that state of the mind when man acts under the influence of the feeling or persuasion that he is able to keep the law by his own power, or support or vindicate it by his own wisdom.

The removal of the ark by successive stages representing the successive elevation of the Divine law in the regenerate mind, there are some particulars of the history respecting it which deserve our attention.

David and those who were with him played before the Lord while removing the ark both from its first and from its second resting-place. As music is expressive of affection, the various instruments mentioned signify the various affections of the mind, the harmonious delights of which produce that which may be called the music of the soul—the sense of peace with God and goodwill to men. This is the true music of the spheres, and fills heaven itself with sweetest harmony. The instruments on which they played on their way from the house of Abinadab signified the gladness of the mind resulting from the natural and spiritual affections of truth. The dancing of David, with the sound of a trumpet, on their way from the house of Obed-edom to Zion, signified joy of heart resulting from the affections of spiritual and celestial good.

While on the way to Zion, and after he brought the ark into it, David sacrificed to the Lord, to represent the dedication to Him of all the principles and faculties of the mind, this being true worship. He blessed the people, and dealt among the whole multitude of Israel, as well to the women as men, to every one a cake of bread, and a good piece of flesh, and a flagon of wine. The people, the multitude of Israel, represented the common affections—the women the affections of good, the men the affections of truth. The bread, flesh, and wine given them are the spiritual and celestial good and truth, by which, as their proper food, they are sustained and delighted. But when these general feasts are spoken of, the mutual satisfaction and delight of all the affections of the mind are understood. Satisfaction and joy that fill the whole mind are the feast of the soul, and that which was represented by the feasts of which we read so often in the Sacred Word.

The introduction of the ark into Zion after all its wanderings in the wilderness, its capture by the Philistines, its abode in the houses of Abinadab and Obed-edom, was no doubt the greatest and most joyous event connected with that sacred symbol that took place previous to its introduction into the temple of Solomon. Representing the completed work of regeneration, the event is fraught with matter of the most important significance. And although we may not be able to enter into it as a subject which is realized in our own experience as a whole, yet it may have found its fulfillment in some particulars of our spiritual life. Every single truth, as a part of the Divine law, is an image of the whole; and every single truth that passes out of the memory into the understanding, and out of the understanding into the will, and again from the will into act, performs a circle that is an image of the greater. And every truth that thus completes the circle of life becomes a part of our eternal inheritance. It has attained its place in the inmost of the mind, and will, if we remain faithful, continue there for ever.

In the highest sense this event represents the completed work of the Lord's glorification, as the origin and pattern of our regeneration. And in connecting these two in our minds, we may find more abundant reason for rejoicing. Connected together as cause and effect, the one sheds light upon the other, for in the higher we see the lower in its cause and pattern, in the lower we see the higher in its effect and image. To that Divine work in the Lord we trace every saving work that can be effected in ourselves. And when we reflect that the Lord came into the world, and went down into Egypt, and passed through the temptations of the wilderness, and overthrew the works of the devil, and finally entered into His glory, only that He might deliver us from bondage, and lead us to victory, and raise us into spiritual power and happiness, we must indeed be desirous to connect these works together, not only in our reflections but in our experience. As subjects in which we have a deep interest, we may profitably enter into them with the earnest and jubilant feelings which the records and images of them are intended to express and inspire. The entrance of the ark of God into the city of David is generally, and we have no doubt justly, considered to be the theme of that sublime psalm which the Church usually chants in celebrating the Lord's ascension. The 24th Psalm is written in the responsive form, and is supposed to have been sung when the holy ark arrived at the gates of the Holy City, David and the multitude without, and the priests, the Levites, and the people within, singing in responsive strains, "Lift up your heads, O you gates; and be you lift up, you everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates; even lift them up, you everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory."

Looking at the Lord in His ascension as one who has gone before us—as that one who, having been lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Him, we may make a practical application of the subject in the responsive words of the same psalm. "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His holy place? He that has clean hands, and a pure heart; who has not lifted up his soul to vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation."

When David had concluded the service in the tabernacle which he had set up for the sacred ark, he went to bless his household. But he met with a singularly unkind reception. "Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel today, who uncovered himself today in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!" This reproachful speech drew from David the only severe expressions he ever addressed to any one of the house of Saul. "David said to Michal, It was before the Lord, which chose me before your father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over' the people of the Lord, over Israel: therefore will I play before the Lord. And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maid-servants which you have spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour." In speaking of Michal, I have said that she represented rather a natural than a spiritual affection. She seems to have had little sympathy with David in his holy work of bringing up the ark, and raising the law into its rightful position, though not into its final dwelling-place. So far as Michal represents the Church, she represents it in its Judaizing rather than in its Christian aspect, like those early disciples who wished to unite the law and the gospel, by placing the Jewish ceremonials on a level with Christian rites, making the law of ordinances as necessary for salvation as the law of life. The natural affection, however firmly it may adhere to the law, does not delight in it; and it was to the gestures expressive of delight that Michal objected in David's conduct. Especially does the natural affection object to see the spiritual uncovered, which was the highest of David's offences against dignity and propriety in the eyes of his wife. The conduct of Michal is no doubt to be understood as having brought a Divine judgement upon her. She had no child to the day of her death. This implies, when spiritually regarded, that between David and Michal there was no true marriage. "Children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is His reward" (Ps 127:3). When spiritually He makes women childless, it is because there is a want of harmony between the natural mind and the spiritual, whose union is necessary to give birth to the virtues of the religious life. When natural affection is not in unison with spiritual truth, there can be no such union between them as to make the life fruitful. And if that state of affection remains, Michal, who might have been a joyful mother of children, shall have no child till the day of her death.

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